The performing arts have always been an important part of my life. My mother taught me to read before I went to school, which meant a lot of my early years were spent being bored in class because I was being “taught” what I already knew. I don’t know if packing my schedule with extra-curriculars was my mother’s strategy to combat this, or it was just serendipity. But by the time I was 5, I was in first grade, two years younger than all my classmates, and involved in every creative and scholastic pursuit possible: dance team, choir, drama group, speech team (individual and choral), spelling bee, bible quiz and academic quiz…I did it all. The scholastic pursuits came easily to my mind, and the creative pursuits came easily to my heart. I am such an advocate of the arts now, because it was on those dance, poetry, music, and drama stages that I learned confidence, teamwork, and leadership. It was the narrow loss of the highest medals that taught me discipline, grit, and the importance of passion. Today I am less of a performer, but I always seek out opportunities to support and participate in artistic endeavours.
So when Phoebe Mutesi asked me to be a part of a new collaborative she was forming called The Arthouse, I couldn’t say no.
The Arthouse is a collective of artists and makers currently spanning Rwanda and Uganda. The Arthouse aims to bring East African creatives together, to create a platform for them to showcase their work. Initially, this will take the form of events where creators can share their work. However, the goal is that each event will lead to the meeting of new minds, and creation of new collaborative pieces of work.
Imagine a painter meeting a rapper at one of these events, leading to the creation of unique cover art for a single. Or two spoken word artists enjoying each other’s’ performances so much that they decide to do a collaborative piece. Beats and Poetry, held on October 24, 2015, was the first opportunity to test this idea out, and I had the pleasure of being one of the MCs.
With over 25 acts on the lineup, this was a jam-packed show. An added bonus was that this was one of the first events to be held in the new rooftop space at The Office in Kacyiru. The downside to using a rooftop space, of course, is the susceptibility to rain. Due to unforeseen showers, our 2pm start time ended up being 4pm. Nevertheless, we still had about 5 hours of solid performances that thrilled the crowd.
And what a crowd it was. The roof was so packed by the end of the night that there was barely room to move, even by the stage. I estimate that we must have had at least 300 people come to the event.
Hosting this event was quite a treat for me. I’d only met my talented co-host, Ugandan comedian Daniel Omara, the night before. Co-hosting events with strangers is always hit or miss, but we ended up having a great rapport with the crowd. This is one of those events that did not feel like a job, because I enjoyed the performances so much.
The night’s climax came when all the performers gathered on stage for a freestyle session, in some way fulfilling Phoebe’s desire for collaboration and space for creative energy to blossom.
With over 25 performers, it’s hard to single out individual standouts, but here are my highlights:
Ife Piankhi – Poet/Singer, Uganda
This Uganda-based poet of Jamaican and Nigerian descent is nothing less than a queen. She walks with the certainty of someone whose lineage was whispered to her as she came out of the womb. Her voice beckons, commands, soothes, and reassures, both when she speaks, and when she sings.
Check her out on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ife-piankhi
Willy Karekezi – Painter/Visual Artist, Rwanda
I must admit that when I saw someone was going to paint as a performance, I was not sure how it would fit with the rest of the schedule. Once Willy hit the stage, he erased any doubts I had about his suitability for this event. We were all transfixed by his masterful strokes as he painted his ten-minute masterpiece. But the real surprise came when he flipped the painting over – revealing that he had essentially been painting upside down the whole time.
Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Willykarts
Mac Hitta – Drummer, Rwanda
My hitta, Mac Hitta, gets props from me firstly because he provided the soundtrack to almost every performer. And secondly because he’s mastered the audience of carrying the audience along with every beat.
K-Rollz – Rapper, Rwanda
Because I didn’t know anyone in Rwanda made trap music. Because I like the fervour with which he reps Kigali. Because I really like his track Not Now.
Weya Viatora – Singer, Rwanda
I’d heard the story about this vocal wunderkind who’d allegedly called into Rick Dees (of Rick Dees and the Weekly Top 40 fame) and gotten him to play her song. The accolades given to her are no exaggeration. She has a beautiful voice, and with a few more years of practice and development of her command of the stage, she could be a household name in the region.
Follow her on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/weya-viatora
Jason Ntaro – Poet, Uganda
Jason’s cadence reminds me of Linton ‘Kwesi’ Johnson. Whatever his subject matter – whether love, politics, or something more mundane – he speaks with a quiet fervour that compels attention and reflection.
Check out his Youtube channel.
Eliane Umuhire – Actress, Rwanda
Eliane’s performance of her monologue was so gripping, you could have heard a pin drop otherwise. Since it was entirely in Kinyarwanda, I did not understand most of it, but I gathered she was representing silenced Rwandan women. She says the piece will be turned into a longer play, and I cannot wait to see it (and I will bring a translator).
Mike Kayihura – Singer, Rwanda
I was already a fan of Mike’s from his performance at the Huza Press launch, which I also hosted, as well as from last year’s Diner en Blanc. His set at Beats and Poetry opened my eyes to the reality that there is a subsection of Rwandan women who may be willing to throw their underwear on stage – Mike’s fans. Mike is an incredibly gifted vocalist, and his prowess on the keyboard draws him some comparisons to John Legend. He’s definitely one to watch, and one whose music is worth buying. Time for an album, Mike.
Follow him on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/mikekayihura
Other solid performances:
- Poets Naleli Rugege, Natasha Muhoza, Eric 1-Key, and the quartet of teen poets led by Manuella Tona
- Rappers Prime, Derrick Marvin and J-Dubb
- Singer Angel Mutoni
And let me know if you listen to any of the acts above, or know any other Rwandan acts I should be listening to.